Have you ever heard the saying “don’t let the future steal your present?” This statement is very powerful. Many of us could benefit from following this mantra as it teaches the importance of mindfulness.
If you have never heard of mindfulness before, it is the practice of being present in the moment (it is also the core of meditation practices and something one must master in order to become truly skilled at meditation).
I work on teaching many of my patients how to be more mindful, which inherently means learning and practicing how to be (more) present in the moment. The benefits of this type of mental lifestyle are plentiful. Those who live in the moment tend to be happier, calmer and more relaxed, and appreciative. Mindfulness can also increase your ability to be in tune with your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations, which allows you to work with these human factors and communicate how you are thinking and feeling to both yourself and others.
One of the treatments that I frequently use in my work with patients, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), really focuses on mindfulness as one of its key components. Mindfulness is included for multiple reasons, including increasing self-awareness and learning how to be focused and fulfilled in the moment. In fact, one of the premises taught in this treatment under the mindfulness approach is about letting your mind steal time from you.
Your mind may be stealing your time
What does this mean? Well, have you ever been on a vacation or doing something you really enjoy but had the thought “I don’t want this to be over” or “this is so fun but soon it will be Monday and I’ll be back at work.” This type of thinking only allows your mind to steal away your precious time. And in reality, the time will naturally pass and exciting, joyous occasions will naturally come to a close. So don’t feel as though you have to perceptively speed up that process!
When you have thoughts like these, rather than being in the moment and enjoying what you are doing, you are focused on when it will come to an end. This type of thinking (non-mindfulness) will take away from you being in the moment and does not allow you to get as much as you can out of the experience. After all, part of the excitement is the build-up to getting there.
Another example of this is when you have something very exciting approaching — perhaps a trip, your wedding, a reunion, or a big party. Let’s run with this example for a moment: You may be so excited about the trip that all you "can” do is think about and plan for it. However, by thinking this way, you are essentially wishing away the time between now and the trip, which is going to pass anyhow (because that is what time does). Then, before you know it, you are on the trip, and then, it is over.
A better approach to savor the upcoming excitement of the trip is to literally do that: to be present in the moment including the time leading up to it, and not to wish away the time until you get there.
The excitement of awaiting something out of the ordinary or special is easily understood, but by focusing so heavily on what’s to come, you miss out on what’s in front of you. And for something big that’s approaching, this usually means that you wish away the present time rather than savoring the excitement leading up to the big event. Then, before you know it, the trip has arrived, you have the experience, and then it ends and is in the past.
By being present in the moment (and savoring the time leading up to it), you obtain a higher level of satisfaction, allow yourself to have a better experience, and feel more fulfilled as the event has not come and gone as quickly.
Everyday application of mindfulness
A trip or other infrequent occasions are good examples of the benefits to being present in the moment, but the approach of being present in the moment can also be applied in everyday life.
Time is a precious commodity. Don’t mentally rush through it or wish it away. Savor the moments, even those of boredom. They, too, will pass.
And even in those slower moments of life, being present in the moment will increase your appreciation and relaxation in them, as opposed to anxiety or depression if your mind is focused elsewhere in time.